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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Signals Support As Austin Weighs Fines For People Not Wearing Face Masks

Pedestrians on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail in Austin on June 24.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
The Texas Tribune
Pedestrians on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail in Austin on June 24.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday signaled his encouragement to Austin city leaders to move forward on "additional enforcement mechanisms" related to a recent order Abbott issued requiring Texans to wear masks in most public spaces.

In a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Abbott said the city's consideration of new enforcement measures "to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)."

"As you know, these Orders were created and adopted based on advise from medical experts, and if these Orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens," he added.

The Austin-American Statesman reported on Wednesday that the City Council will meet Thursday "to vote on a resolution that would allow for a fine of up to $2,000 for anyone violating a 'health authority rule' like not wearing a mask" and to take "civil action against any person who maintains a business or site that does not comply with minimum health standards."

While Abbott's letter did not specify that meeting, Adler said as much Thursday in a Facebook Live appearance.

"I got a letter from the governor supporting what the city council is doing tomorrow," Adler said.

Late last week, Abbott ordered Texans who live in counties with more than 20 coronavirus cases to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while in a business or other building open to the public, as well as outdoor public spaces, whenever social distancing is not possible - with some exceptions.

Abbott further discussed his letter to Adler in an appearance on KXAN on Wednesday evening.

"Local officials do need to step up and enforce these executive orders, knowing that the executive orders that have been issued were intended to slow the spread...without having to close down," he said.

"The last thing that we can and should do is to close down," he added. "It's my understanding the mayor has made clear that he understands that any attempt to close businesses back down into a lockdown or a stay-at-home standard would be in contradiction of my executive order. And so all that they are contemplating doing, as I understand it, is making sure that they do enforce the existing executive order standards."

The American-Statesman also reported on Wednesday that city officials are keeping the option of enforcing a local shelter-in-place order. That order would also allow only employees of essential businesses to go to work.

Asked if he would support such a move, Abbott said: "If it's something people want to do, but not as a mandate. I've been clear, and that is that people should still have the freedom to go about their typical job."

"Let me emphasize this because it apparently needs to be made even more clear. The thing about people wearing face masks and the reason why I issued the face mask requirement, is that if everyone does wear a face mask, everyone can go into work wherever they may work."

"Our goal is to not have any type of shutdown policy, any type of stay at home policy, is to make sure people can engage economically while also slowing the spread," he added.


From The Texas Tribune

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